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Life-and-death struggle for Iraq
by BBC (reposted)
Monday Feb 27th, 2006 6:45 AM
Only people outside Iraq bother to argue about whether what is happening here is a civil war.
Inside, they know how bad things are; they don't need to attach a label to it.

This is my eighth visit to Baghdad in the space of 13 months, and things are worse now than I have ever seen them.

The deliberate, well-planned efforts by extremists to provoke the Shia Muslim community into violence against Sunni Muslims have been depressingly successful.

Murder gangs have retaliated again and again against the Sunni community. Some Shia clerics are no longer so outspoken against these tit-for-tat killings.

Anger and bitterness

Yet senior Iraqi politicians have not reached the point of despair. They acknowledge that things are bad and may well get worse, but they still feel there are some grounds for hope.

Chief among these is the fact that many Iraqis, perhaps the majority, are not prepared to see the country break up into its constituent parts.

Opinion polls have repeatedly shown that most Sunnis and Shia actively want to continue living alongside each other.

Anyone who spent time, as I did, in the former Yugoslavia before the civil wars of the early 1990s will remember the bitterness between the different ethnic groups, and the contempt for the old Yugoslav system, too, which had failed so badly.

Iraq is different. The layout of the country may have been imposed on its people by the League of Nations, under British prompting, only 86 years ago, yet it has not failed, as Yugoslavia (which was formed at roughly the same time) failed.

What happened was that US and British forces invaded Iraq in 2003 and smashed the state, causing an anger and bitterness which the Bush administration and the Blair government have never acknowledged.

Troop presence

Last Friday, as the intercommunal violence reached new heights, some Sunnis and Shias prayed together to show their determination to keep the country working.

Many moderate Iraqis now believe the US and British presence here is distinctly irrelevant.

Read More
CAIRO, Feb. 26 — Shortly before the American-led invasion of Iraq, Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, warned that the attack would "open the gates of hell." Now, three years later, there is a sense in the Middle East that what was once viewed as quintessential regional hyperbole may instead have been darkly prescient.

Even before the bombing of one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines in Samarra set off sectarian fighting last Wednesday, the chaos in Iraq helped elevate Iran's regional influence — a great concern to many of the Sunni led governments here — while also giving Al Qaeda sympathizers a new a foothold in the region.

But the bombing, and the prospect of a full-blown civil war driven by sectarian divisions, is even more ominous for the Middle East. Nine Middle Eastern countries have sizable populations of Shiites living side by side with Sunnis, and there is concern in many of them that a split in Iraq could lead to divided allegiances and, perhaps, conflict at home.

by USA Today
Monday Feb 27th, 2006 8:00 AM
Iraq's intensified religious battles could undermine the Bush administration plan for cutting the number of U.S. troops there, experts say, especially if negotiations in Baghdad fail to produce a national unity government.

"This throws a monkey wrench in the administration's strategy of standing down (U.S. troops) as the Iraqis stand up, because it suggests that many Iraqis are standing up to fight other Iraqis," says James Phillips, a defense scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The bombing of a major Shiite shrine in the Iraqi city of Samarra on Wednesday triggered a wave of sectarian violence. Shiite militias attacked and occupied Sunni mosques, and Sunnis fought back.

The intense new fighting came while politicians were still struggling to form a government more than two months after Iraq's Dec. 15 elections. Negotiations continued through the weekend, but there was no sign of agreement on a government acceptable to Shiites, Sunnis and other groups — a government the Bush administration hopes will help end the violence. Meanwhile, U.S. troops faced a series of bad options as they struggled not to get caught in the middle or be seen as taking sides.

"It's time for the administration to do a fundamental reassessment of what it is that we are willing to do in order to stabilize Iraq," says Loren Thompson, a military expert at the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Virginia that focuses on defense issues. "The United States needs to draw a line in terms of how deep it is willing to be drawn into Iraqi domestic politics."

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